quarterlife, the pilot-turned-Web-show-turned-pilot, recently had its day on broadcast TV. Despite NBC execs believing their minor league player was ready to be called to The Big Show, let’s just say that the pilot was not at all well received. The show hasn’t been canceled, just moved from NBC to Bravo. It’s quite amusing to be hearing the dual sided discussions (especially from entertainment circles) that on one hand this somehow marks the death of Web-to-Broadcast content but that the NBC to Bravo move is smart because on cable, the viewer numbers quarterlife got were more than acceptable.
I watched the first episode and was radically unimpressed. Despite basic scripting issues (the pilot was a completely self-contained episode, rather than a reason to watch a full season), I remembered seeing the original Web-based content and enjoying it. I headed back to the quarterlife site to watch another episode and, surprisingly, enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, the broadcast pilot made some serious mistakes, but how can actors playing the same role on TV suck while viewing them play that same role on the Web seem quite good? quarterlife creator, Marshall Herskovitz put it best when he said: “when you saw it on TV it didn’t look like TV, and when you saw it on the Internet it didn’t look like the Internet.”
I’ve been chewing on this same paradox after installing FlickrFan, a screensaver application that feeds in Flickr photos from your contacts and other sources and displays them with a Ken Burns motion effect. I get bored clicking a few times around my Flickr contacts through my Web browser, but I’ve literally sat for 45 minutes watching the FlickrFan pictures float by. It’s the same content, but a different experience. Why?
Because the medium drives the experience.
Television content and movie content is basically the same thing, but when we go to a theater it’s a different experience than sitting at home on the couch. We’re in a different mental state, have different expectations, and a different kind of focus. The content is designed around the medium, because each medium has a different experience. quarterlife is fun on the Web because it’s designed for the Web. The shorter episodes allow you just enough connection to the characters to not have them seem scripted or hollow. The lower quality video that all Web content is delivered in screams “authentic”. It’s the right content for the right medium, which is why it delivers on the Web.
While traditional entertainment content (especially TV) has a difficult time making jumps between mediums, the Social Web creates opportunities abound for medium jumping. Through the implementation of APIs (computer methods to exchange data between two parties), sites like Flickr and Twitter have built ecosystems of applications that use the data from the master system (Flickr.com, Twitter.com, etc.) and allow users to pick the types of experiences they would like to have with relative ease, and in a fashion that’s customized to their experience.
The Flickr API empowers FlickrFan to deliver an experience that’s highly customized to the medium (in my case, the media server that sits mostly ideal on the corner of my desk). It empowers Photonic, a Mac application, to deliver my photos in a highly organized, easy to use desktop application. The list goes on.
Today there are more mediums (and thus opportunities) than ever before, and that’s a good thing for all of us trying to make money on the Social Web. When we open our content up, we allow it to appear in multiple mediums, but always with our project as the foundation. Switch services from Flickr? Not on your life, I have too much invested in Flickr and in Flickr’s API-empowered ecosystem. The true business brilliance is not in the creation of the ecosystem, it’s the acceptance of (and enthusiasm for) the reality that your company will never, ever “do it all” and that’s OK.
“…on the one thing I know is true: like it or hate it, quarterlife really is an Internet show.”
quarterlife (the TV version) failed not because the idea was bad, but because the creators lost focus of what their purpose was: to continue to support a great Web show.